Diwali is a mainstay of India’s festival culture, but despite all its colour, noise and cheer, it is accompanied by some deeply problematic and damning consequences. It is common knowledge that the observation of Diwali is made possible by a child labour workforce and that it is hellish for the environment (the worsening air quality in Delhi recently is a testament to this). It is also a miserable and difficult time for animals; your pet dog at home might find it hard enough, but it is hardest of all for the dogs and cats roughing it out on the streets.
Dogs have very sharp hearing. They’re larger and are placed more conveniently for better hearing (especially for dogs which have upright ears, which many of our street dogs possess). As Audicus reports, dogs can hear noises from anywhere between 40 to 60000 Hertz (for comparison, humans can pick up on sounds from anywhere between 20 to 20000 Hertz), which is quite an impressive scale. This, combined with the constant and sudden flashes of light during Diwali, can stress out many dogs.
So what can you do to help out the regular stray?
Although we don’t hear reports of children (or even adults) abusing animals during Diwali as was much more common in previous years, Diwali is generally a strain on any canine. Strays that are susceptible to being startled by loud noises may hide under cars. There are several more accidents during this time as startled dogs may be less alert to their surroundings. For street dogs, they simply have nowhere else to go, and must endure very loud anxiety-inducing noises that they cannot comprehend.
If you have a garage or a compound that is noise-free, encourage the strays in your neighbourhood to take shelter there, or arrange for some cardboard boxes or other forms of temporary shelter where they might feel safe. If you happen to be on amicable terms with the strays in your neighbourhood, they could use some reassurance and kind words. If you feel especially bold, you could speak to the worst culprits in your neighbourhood and ask them to burst crackers in a centralised, single area, which the dogs would then naturally avoid. It would be prudent to check on the dogs periodically and make sure they’ve made it through the night, in case anything necessitates medical intervention (such as a burn).
And what if you’re a pet owner yourself?
Circumstances become easier and more controllable (but still stressful) if you’re a dog-owner yourself. Firstly, you should make sure your dog is wearing an identification tag of some kind, because runaways are common during Diwali. However, you’re probably in the clear if you shut the doors and windows, which will go some way towards blocking out the noise and also prevent your pet from getting any ideas about turning escape artist. A secure environment will probably help your pet feel better.
Try to give your dog a good meal before the noise gets out of hand, and they become too distracted to eat. Also make sure they get a solid bout of exercise in while you can still take them outside (or wherever they feel most secure, perhaps in your backyard or in a compound or a park, depending on where you live); this will tire them out and hopefully they won’t be as jittery or full of unspent energy when facing the fireworks. If you’re lucky, they might even sleep through the whole thing as a result.
If your dog is especially nervous, make sure you spend time with them in a closed room. Some pet owners prefer to turn up the television volume or even play white or ambient noise to drown out the sound. You can also place music if you feel that will help to calm your pet. You can also try to distract them by playing with them using toys or getting them to practice a particular training command. Additionally, you can try to play some brain games to stimulate your dog (such as hide and seek, or getting your dog to hunt for hidden treats, and so on). This will take your pet’s attention away from the flashing lights and noise and focus it elsewhere.
If diyas are being lit in your house, make sure your dog doesn’t suffer a case of singed whiskers, and, of course (as goes without saying), don’t burn crackers in the vicinity of your dog.
Vets report that dogs are more irritable and aggressive when they are faced with this relentless noise, and staying near your dog and doing something as simple as talking to it can help to keep it calm. As with dog training, positive reinforcement is a much more sensible option than expressing anger at your dog for being afraid. You might consider keeping the number of a qualified vet on hand if your dog starts to express major symptoms of anxiety (or any other medical condition), as giving sedatives without a prescription can be a bad idea (as DNA India says).
Although recent court judgements have curtailed the sale and use of crackers, it cannot be argued that the use of fireworks is an integral part of how our country celebrates Diwali, and it will not go out of fashion any time soon, despite the efforts of animal activists. What we can do is manage the mess, however, by being a comforting and alert presence to dogs (and other animals), both within the house, and outside.
Author: Lakshmi Mitra